Orlando Sentinel
March 28, 2004

Cuban caper touches all the bases

By Richard Crepeau
Special to the Sentinel

In Havana World Series, you will not learn much about the World Series, but you will learn a great deal about the nightlife and criminal activity in the Cuban city in the final months of the Batista regime.

Set in Havana in October of 1958, this story of an organized crime turf battle spins around a major heist at the casino of the Capri Hotel.

The robbery is set to begin after the final game of the Series ends. The memorable Braves-Yankees struggle of that year provides background music for the planning of the heist. It also offers an opportunity for the introduction of the major characters of both the novel and the world of organized crime in the city that was a playground for the rich and famous of several continents.

Prize-winning crime novelist José Latour is a Cuban by birth who moved to Spain in 2002. This is his ninth book and is almost certain to be the subject of some ambitious director's film noir.

It is a wonderful piece of social history and a stylized tableau full of major crime figures and colorful small-time hoods who glide across the landscape of Havana's nightlife. It could be read as an indictment of the corruption of Batista's government, U.S. policy in Cuba, and the hypocrisy of '50s morality.

The plot is intricate, both at the macro and micro levels. Small human dramas are imbedded within the larger flow of the story. The portrait of Meyer Lansky, the rackets boss of Havana, his inner circle, and the vast net he cast over Cuba and the United States are cleverly developed.

The underlings give the story both its color and its tension. Lansky's rivalry with Joe Bonanno drives the plot. Bonanno orchestrates the robbery of Lansky's casino from New York, and Lansky himself smells the rat behind the act when it happens. Even the death of Pope Pius XII on the last day of the World Series figures into the story.

You couldn't ask for more. The characters are fascinating, the story compelling, but the real charm is revealed in the details of 1950s Havana -- a great place to be if you had money, your health and a plane ticket out.

Sports historian Richard Crepeau is a professor at the University of Central Florida.